Synopsis of Schweitzer's QHJ [Ch. 2, Reimarus]

Discussion about the New Testament, apocrypha, gnostics, church fathers, Christian origins, historical Jesus or otherwise, etc.
User avatar
Irish1975
Posts: 481
Joined: Fri Dec 15, 2017 8:01 am
Contact:

Synopsis of Schweitzer's QHJ [Ch. 2, Reimarus]

Post by Irish1975 »

Irish1975 wrote: Sun May 02, 2021 7:22 am Albert Schweitzer’s Quest of the Historical Jesus (1st ed., tr. Montgomery, 1910) is available here on Early Christian Writings.

In the interest of promoting close study and discussion of this always relevant book, I will attempt a synopsis of each chapter. Feedback, assistance, and clarification are welcome.

Knowing no German, I often adhere closely, but not entirely, to the exact language of the English text, especially on controversial points (eg, “the Gospel writers were simple Christians without literary gift”). At other places, I use my own words to make the point concise.
Quest of The Historical Jesus, Chapter 2: Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694-1768)

1. No one before Reimarus attempted to form a historical conception of the life of Jesus. For Martin Luther, e.g., the acts and miracles of Jesus recounted in Scripture have no order, and unsolvable difficulties ought to be left alone.
2. Reimarus’ “Aims of Jesus and his Disciples” is a watershed in the history of Biblical criticism.
3. For Lessing, a thinker and not a historian, Reimarus’ criticism discredited the received idea of revelation, and necessitated for theology a retreat from written traditions to the inner truth of Christianity.
4. Summary of Reimarus—

i. Jesus’ own preaching must have been different, and was in fact different, from what the apostles preached about him.
ii. His whole message was that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand—and therefore his hearers must repent and believe the good news. This message was intended and understood from within the thought world of Judaism at that time, which yearned only for earthly deliverance from Roman oppression. Jesus would have been viewed as the messiah only according to this traditionally Jewish and political conception, and not in any heavenly or spiritual way.
iii. Therefore Jesus had no intention to abolish Judaism or to replace it with a new religion. Christian baptism does not go back to Jesus at all, and the records of his last supper refer only to the Mosaic passover on the one hand, and to an imminent kingdom (which never arrived) on the other.
iv. Jesus did not prove his messiahship through miracles; the Gospels do not indicate that he performed miracles at all during the last week in Jerusalem.
v. Jesus mistakenly believed that the kingdom would come either at the sending out of his disciples, or at his riding a donkey into Jerusalem, or at least within the time of the present generation. His death cry (Why have you forsaken me?) shows plainly that his hope and belief were crushed in the end. It had not been his purpose to suffer and die, but to be the deliverer of the Jews.
vi. After Jesus’ death the disciples retreated to a second form of the Jewish messianic hope, according to a two-phase conception derived from Daniel and expressed in Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho (ch. 14): the messiah was to come a first time in humility and suffering, and a second time triumphantly on the clouds of heaven.
vii. The disciples hid Jesus’ body and invented the story of his resurrection and imminent return, giving his death the significance of a spiritual redemption. For they were loathe to return to the Galilean fishing business, and the Christian lifestyle worked out well for the them and enhanced their social standing and quest for power.
viii. The hope for the Parousia, which had birthed Christianity, foundered on the persistence of the world, and gave way to the revised forecast of 2 Thessalonians and the sophistry of 2 Peter. The non-fulfillment of the eschatology of Christianity is proof of its fraud.

5. Reimarus’ treatise has historical merit despite its polemical nature—which is understandable because of the way Christianity was justified in Reimarus’ own time. He was the first to grasp that the world of thought in which Jesus moved was essentially eschatological.
6. Reimarus was wrong to suppose that Jesus’ messianic self-conception was earthly, political, Davidic; all his mistakes follow from this one error. He supposed that Christianity was an imposture because historical research was primitive in his time.
7. Until the work of Johannes Weiss appeared in 1892, Jesus scholars wrongly ignored Reimarus’ insight that the historical Jesus must be regarded as the final product of the eschatological and apocalyptic thought of Late Judaism [Schweitzer's own position].
8. Rather than ascribe separately to Jesus the political conception and to the disciples the apocalyptic conception of the messiah and his kingdom, Reimarus ought to have superimposed the one upon the other, in such a way that Messianic King = Son of Man, and in such a way that the ancient prophetic conception might be inscribed within the circumference of the apocalyptic and raised along with it to the super-sensuous plane.
9. Reimarus emphasized the Synoptics by ignoring the peculiarities of the 4th Gospel [in fact he does not distinguish the four Gospel accounts from one another].
10. He is especially skillful at grasping and explaining the difference between Jesus’ attitude to the Law and that of the disciples, and how the one emerged from the other.
11. He recognized that early Christianity was not something that grew out of the teaching of Jesus.
12. For Reimarus there is a creative element in the tradition [i.e. the post-Golgotha imposture of the disciples] from which arose the miracles, the prophecy fulfillments, the universalist themes, and the predictions of the passion and resurrection.
13. For Schweitzer, Reimarus is one of those historians destined from the womb to have that special instinctive feeling for reality, for which erudition is no substitute and in fact an obstruction. It is primarily theologians whose erudition serves to obstruct insight, to blind the eyes to elementary truths.
14. The generation of Bible scholars that witnessed Lessing's 1778 publication of Reimarus's Fragments failed to comprehend their significance, and this seminal figure was neglected until a later time.

An 1879 edition of Reimarus is online here.
Ken Olson
Posts: 495
Joined: Fri May 09, 2014 9:26 am

Re: Synopsis of Schweitzer's QHJ [Ch. 2, Reimarus]

Post by Ken Olson »

Thanks Irish 1975. I find a lot of merit in Reimarus' points 4 i-iii and part of iv (as enumerated by you from Schweitzer), but he still seems to be assuming a great deal of historicity in the gospel accounts. But I have a question about point 5 - what precisely was Reimarus polemicizing against in his polemicizing? I remember Schweitzer saying that some of the best lives of Jesus were written with hate - not hatred of Jesus himself, but hatred of something. Did you get and impression of what it was that got under Reimarus' skin enough that he took pen in hand to write about Jesus?

Best,

Ken
Bernard Muller
Posts: 3935
Joined: Tue Oct 15, 2013 6:02 pm
Contact:

Re: Synopsis of Schweitzer's QHJ [Ch. 2, Reimarus]

Post by Bernard Muller »

My comments on Reimarus' view:

i. Jesus’ own preaching must have been different, and was in fact different, from what the apostles preached about him.

Apostles (like Paul) but not disciples (who preached the same messages than Jesus).

ii. His whole message was that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand—and therefore his hearers must repent and believe the good news. This message was intended and understood from within the thought world of Judaism at that time, which yearned only for earthly deliverance from Roman oppression. Jesus would have been viewed as the messiah only according to this traditionally Jewish and political conception, and not in any heavenly or spiritual way.

I don't think Jesus preached repentance. Rather he preached only the poor will deserve the kingdom of God when it comes on earth.

iii. Therefore Jesus had no intention to abolish Judaism or to replace it with a new religion. Christian baptism does not go back to Jesus at all, and the records of his last supper refer only to the Mosaic passover on the one hand, and to an imminent kingdom (which never arrived) on the other.

The last supper on Passover with disciples was invented.

iv. Jesus did not prove his messiahship through miracles; the Gospels do not indicate that he performed miracles at all during the last week in Jerusalem.

Jesus was credited, for a few months, to be a healer and even a miracles worker. But that's not much considering that, according to Paul, some Corinthians were known as also healer & miracles worker (1 Corinthians 12:28). That belief came from two incidents in Capernaum as reported in gMark (with some embellishments).

v. Jesus mistakenly believed that the kingdom would come either at the sending out of his disciples, or at his riding a donkey into Jerusalem, or at least within the time of the present generation. His death cry (Why have you forsaken me?) shows plainly that his hope and belief were crushed in the end. It had not been his purpose to suffer and die, but to be the deliverer of the Jews.

Riding a donkey was likely invented. I don't think Jesus believed that the kingdom would come at the sending out of his disciples (the missonary directive were likely invented for later apostles). Also invented would be Jesus' last words. Jesus never though to be the Messaiah, but it was others (such as those Jews who welcome Jesus outside Jerusalem) who thought that.

vi. After Jesus’ death the disciples retreated to a second form of the Jewish messianic hope, according to a two-phase conception derived from Daniel and expressed in Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho (ch. 14): the messiah was to come a first time in humility and suffering, and a second time triumphantly on the clouds of heaven.

Not his disciples, but the some of the aforementioned Jews (who became the first proto-Christians).

vii. The disciples hid Jesus’ body and invented the story of his resurrection and imminent return, giving his death the significance of a spiritual redemption. For they were loathe to return to the Galilean fishing business, and the Christian lifestyle worked out well for the them and enhanced their social standing and quest for power.

The Empty Tomb was totally invented. Some disciples and Jesus' brothers (who never became Christians) found their way to Jerusalem (likely as permanent guests of the proto-Christian community), and lived poorly, but with no need to work for a living. And they were not looking for power or enhanced their social standing.

viii. The hope for the Parousia, which had birthed Christianity, foundered on the persistence of the world, and gave way to the revised forecast of 2 Thessalonians and the sophistry of 2 Peter. The non-fulfillment of the eschatology of Christianity is proof of its fraud.

Cordially, Bernard
User avatar
Irish1975
Posts: 481
Joined: Fri Dec 15, 2017 8:01 am
Contact:

Re: Synopsis of Schweitzer's QHJ [Ch. 2, Reimarus]

Post by Irish1975 »

Ken Olson wrote: Sat May 08, 2021 8:40 am [Reimarus] seems to be assuming a great deal of historicity in the gospel accounts.
What struck me when reading Reimarus directly (not via Schweitzer) is that he doesn’t so much as refer to the 4 Gospels as separate documents—a habit we now take for granted. As though he didn’t recognize even the existence of their authors as authors. It was the disciples who invented stories and fabricated Christianity, not any writers of the Gospels.
But I have a question about point 5 - what precisely was Reimarus polemicizing against in his polemicizing? I remember Schweitzer saying that some of the best lives of Jesus were written with hate - not hatred of Jesus himself, but hatred of something. Did you get and impression of what it was that got under Reimarus' skin enough that he took pen in hand to write about Jesus?
Simply the idea that Jesus & the apostles/disciples were in perfect agreement, that the apostolic witness (however conceived) was a faithful representation of what Jesus had said and done, and therefore also the authentic foundation on which both Catholicism and Protestantism rested. Reimarus, a deist, rejected churches and their claims to authority based on scripture and/or revelation.
User avatar
Irish1975
Posts: 481
Joined: Fri Dec 15, 2017 8:01 am
Contact:

Re: Synopsis of Schweitzer's QHJ [Ch. 2, Reimarus]

Post by Irish1975 »

Bernard,

I don’t have a reply to your commentary because I don’t see any point in discussing Schweitzer, Reimarus, or any other important figure in modern criticism only through the lense of what I myself—or you—think about a historical Jesus, the origins of Chrisitianity, the formation of the NT, etc.

Not meaning to be rude, only to be clear about the purpose behind this thread.
Bernard Muller
Posts: 3935
Joined: Tue Oct 15, 2013 6:02 pm
Contact:

Re: Synopsis of Schweitzer's QHJ [Ch. 2, Reimarus]

Post by Bernard Muller »

to Irish1975,

OK, but I thought some of the points you made (6, 8, 9) were coming from your own view.

Cordially, Bernard
Last edited by Bernard Muller on Sat May 08, 2021 3:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Ken Olson
Posts: 495
Joined: Fri May 09, 2014 9:26 am

Re: Synopsis of Schweitzer's QHJ [Ch. 2, Reimarus]

Post by Ken Olson »

Irish1975 wrote: Sat May 08, 2021 9:36 am
Ken Olson wrote: Sat May 08, 2021 8:40 am [Reimarus] seems to be assuming a great deal of historicity in the gospel accounts.
What struck me when reading Reimarus directly (not via Schweitzer) is that he doesn’t so much as refer to the 4 Gospels as separate documents—a habit we now take for granted. As though he didn’t recognize even the existence of their authors as authors. It was the disciples who invented stories and fabricated Christianity, not any writers of the Gospels.
Thanks, yes, that makes sense. Treating the gospel authors as individuals probably became (and is commonly held to have become) the common practice after J.J. Griesbach published his Synopsis in 1776, eight years father Reimarus' death. Also, the idea that the disciples themselves invented stories about Jesus was already found in the ancient world - e.g., Eusebius Demonstratio 3.5. (The accusation that the disciples stole the body in order to faciiliate the claim that Jesus had been raised from the dead, of course, goes back to Matt 27.64).
But I have a question about point 5 - what precisely was Reimarus polemicizing against in his polemicizing? I remember Schweitzer saying that some of the best lives of Jesus were written with hate - not hatred of Jesus himself, but hatred of something. Did you get and impression of what it was that got under Reimarus' skin enough that he took pen in hand to write about Jesus?
Simply the idea that Jesus & the apostles/disciples were in perfect agreement, that the apostolic witness (however conceived) was a faithful representation of what Jesus had said and done, and therefore also the authentic foundation on which both Catholicism and Protestantism rested. Reimarus, a deist, rejected churches and their claims to authority based on scripture and/or revelation.
[/quote]

Thanks.
User avatar
Irish1975
Posts: 481
Joined: Fri Dec 15, 2017 8:01 am
Contact:

Re: Synopsis of Schweitzer's QHJ [Ch. 2, Reimarus]

Post by Irish1975 »

Ken Olson wrote: Sat May 08, 2021 10:57 am Treating the gospel authors as individuals probably became (and is commonly held to have become) the common practice after J.J. Griesbach published his Synopsis in 1776, eight years father Reimarus' death.
Makes sense. Seems like Griesbach pioneered the modern synoptics-vs-John concept, in contrast to the traditionalist “harmony” in the vein of Tatian. To quote Lessing,
Oh that most excellent Harmony, which can only reconcile two contradictory reports, both stemming from the evangelists, by inventing a third report, not a syllable of which is to be found in any individual evangelist!
User avatar
Irish1975
Posts: 481
Joined: Fri Dec 15, 2017 8:01 am
Contact:

Re: Synopsis of Schweitzer's QHJ [Ch. 2, Reimarus]

Post by Irish1975 »

Observations/Impressions
  • For Reimarus himself it was more important to establish the politically-charged and dangerous claims (1) that Jesus' teaching was (must have been) different from the teaching of the apostles/disciples, (2) that Jesus was not the founder of Christianity, and (3) that the Gospels give evidence of an imposture or fraud by the Christian Church ab ovo, than to make any particular claim about Jesus' identity, teaching, mission, or self-conception.
  • Schweitzer seems to exaggerate the extent to which Reimarus' ideas laid the groundwork for his own ideas and those of Weiss. I don't have a reliable edition of Reimarus and have read only bits of him, but I don't see that he was particularly concerned with ancient Jewish apocalypticism. Maybe he knew something of 1 Enoch, but as far as I can tell it does not enter into his speculations about what Jesus meant by "the kingdom of heaven/God," speculations which refer principally to Old Testament themes and the mere fact of Roman occupation of Judea.
  • Schweitzer sometimes seems to conflate Jewish apocalypticism--a complex of ideas and literary traditions that spanned the whole Hellenistic era--with the specific and simple belief (apparently shared by JB, Jesus, and Paul) that the world was about to end ("eschatology"). Thus the claim that Reimarus had discovered that "the world of thought in which Jesus moved was essentially eschatological" (p.23) depends on what one means by "eschatology."
  • Reimarus writes from a time when merely historical curiosity or professionalism was not an option, due to the stifling orthodoxy of his time and place. Perhaps this fact bears some comparison to the non-professional intellectual environment of the internet today. We do not have an overarching and stifling orthodoxy--contrary to what a lot of people seem to think these days--but there are intensely political and polemical expressions of Christianity and anti-Christianity going on. Christian nationalism in the United States is an ongoing threat and problem. This environment affects how and what people think about the Bible and religious history.
User avatar
Irish1975
Posts: 481
Joined: Fri Dec 15, 2017 8:01 am
Contact:

Re: Synopsis of Schweitzer's QHJ [Ch. 2, Reimarus]

Post by Irish1975 »

Schweitzer is certainly critical of Christian theology and the way it distorts research into Jesus’ historicity. But not all that critical. As noted in my summary of Ch. 1, he himself is overtly writing as a theologian, not as some type of secular historian. He took his doctorate in theology, and worked as a pastor, during the years when he wrote QHJ.

From the summary above (#13):
It is primarily theologians whose erudition serves to obstruct insight, to blind the eyes to elementary truths.
It seems far more reasonable to suppose that theologians, or any believers who practice scholarship, are blinded, not by erudition, but by a desire to construct whatever “historical” foundation they imagine to be necessary for the vindication of what they believe.
Post Reply